The decline in Tulsa started in the 1950s when Utica Square opened. By 1968, Tulsa had shopping centers at 41st and Yale and 51st and Harvard. In 1976, Woodland Hills opened, and Downtown Tulsa was worse off.
In an effort to fix the decline of our downtown, the City acquired almost every privately owned property south of Third Street and west of Denver and demolished the buildings. Some of the land still stands idle today. Almost every structure located south of Third and west of Denver was built with public funds or was subsidized by the City including Central Park and the Renaissance Apartments. The City had essentially given away $10 million in 2025 Bond Fund money to developers in efforts to renovate historic downtown buildings, such as the Mayo Hotel.
The owners of the Philtower Building got public money to convert office space into apartments and the owner of the Mayo Building also received public funds to renovate that building -- to name but two.
Because I live at Seventh and Elwood and have a legal executive suite business located in the Historic Beacon Building at Fourth and Boulder, I walk to work most of the time and do not rent a parking place for my car. I do rent three parking spaces for my employees and have a commercial parking sticker for my car, so I can park my car short periods of time in the loading zone in front of the building and not feed a meter.
My business, which provides support services to legal professionals, is successful because it is located close to the downtown courthouses. There are legal professionals who are not interested in locating their offices downtown because neither they nor their clients are interested in the inconvenience associated with doing business downtown.
The City recently spent $40,000 for a study designed to find out if people are interested in living downtown. The idea, as reported by the Tulsa World, was to try to fathom the demand for downtown Tulsa, so that developers might be motivated to build new apartments downtown and for financial institutions to loan money to the developers to build new housing downtown.
No unsubsidized apartments have been built in Downtown Tulsa since before the WWII!
When hundreds of parking meters were vandalized for the money that they contained in 2003 and 2004, I collected more than 1,000 signatures from people in Downtown Tulsa objecting to the replacement of the meters. Downtown Tulsa Unlimited's Executive Director, Jim Norton, told me that DTU opposed the replacement of the meters but then came out and announced that DTU supported their replacement.
When I called him about his contradictory statements on the matter, he told me DTU did not want the meters replaced, but the City said that it did not have the resources to manage the street level parking downtown without meters.
I once met with one of Mayor Taylor's administrative assistances about the management of downtown parking. He told me that the parking meters do not make the City any money.
The meters were, back then, a break-even deal from a financial point of view. They are universally despised by the public, and they do not accomplish the desired result, i.e., successfully manage the limited number of parking spaces between Denver and Elgin and between First and Seventh streets.
Except for the parking meters on Elwood between Sixth and Seventh, there is no demand for metered street parking outside the core of Downtown Tulsa.
The suburban shopping centers took business away from Downtown Tulsa because they provided and continue to provide more convenient and more enjoyable places to shop and do business. Downtown Tulsa is not generally competitive in any category, i.e., residential, retail or commercial because the way it is configured and the way it is operated by the City.
The only time anyone ventures downtown is when there is something going on downtown that is attractive enough to motivate them to tolerate the inconvenience, expose themselves to the homeless and pay to park their cars.
The City has mismanaged our downtown, and it continues to mismanage our downtown. Mike Bunney's reported interest privatizing the operation and maintenance of the downtown parking meters, and enforcement efforts are but another example of a government bureaucrat who does not live downtown tinkering with one of the aspects of the management of Downtown Tulsa that has been and continues to be fundamentally flawed.
The City is extracting approximately $1 million a year from the owners of properties located inside the IDL to expend for unspecified additional services that will "improve" downtown. It has been assessing and collecting tribute from the property owners for more than 30 years, and Downtown Tulsa is worse off today than when the first assessment district was created.
Mayor Taylor brought a group of municipal experts to Tulsa in early 2009 to look at our downtown and point out some fixes. They told the Mayor, Charles Hardt and others to get rid of the one way streets. I have heard nothing about any plans to follow the recommendation.
The last thing that everyone hates about Downtown Tulsa -- the parking meters. They hate to have to pay to park their cars on a public street, and it makes them mad as hell when the time that they have purchased expires and they get ticketed by the meter reader.
The City manages the downtown street parking resources to the detriment of Downtown Tulsa. Mike Bunney, the City's Economic Development Director, now wants to privatize the operation and management of the downtown parking meters to boost the revenue produced by the City's 1,133 meters and "also help commercial businesses succeed in the revitalized downtown." If only the City had more parking meter chicken hawks to write more tickets everything would be better, but the City does not have the money to hire a second parking meter attendant, so he is proposing that the City hire a private contractor to police the use of the downtown parking meters and write more tickets for a share of the loot.
I bet you have already figured out that I strongly disagree with Mr. Bunney. So, if I am so smart, what would I do? I would kill two birds with one stone.
I would remove all of the meters and manage the use of the downtown street level parking resources with four police officers or four security guards. The City, of course, is never going to assign four police officers to provide security presence downtown and manage street level parking. I am suing the City over the validity of the IDL assessment on behalf of a number of Downtown Tulsa Property owners who believe that their property is being taken without just compensation by the City. I am confident that my clients will ultimately be successfully.
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